I'm not sure I should listen to daytime radio, even to our local Christian station. Something will inevitably come on that makes me wander around the house muttering to myself, much to the amusement of my children. This particular case involved a woman's interest show and the person being interviewed had written a book about how when she became a mother she lost who she was and had become "just a mother". I'm used to hearing things like this and usually let them roll past me, but the interviewer had to go on to say she was sure there were two types of woman listening. The first group were the women who didn't know they had lost themselves and the second group were the women who understood completely what the author was talking about.
Now, I know, and J. is constantly reminding me, that I am no one's target audience. But the fact that the interviewer didn't allow for a third option really grated on me. Frankly, I don't feel lost and I don't feel I am just a mother. (Personally, I can think of no more degrading a phrase to describe my existence than "just a mother". The phrase implies stupidity, laziness, and unproductiveness. The word 'just' does tricky things when used as a modifier.) My self-worth comes from the fact I am a child of God and that I serve Him. It does not come from a paycheck, or from having many degrees, or even from having a huge audience for this blog. (Perhaps I'm still working on that last one, judging by how many times I check to see if there are any new comments.) As I go about my day, I try to keep in the forefront of my mind that I am serving God. For instance, how would I feel about fixing dinner tonight if I knew Jesus was going to be sitting at my table? Doing mundane tasks take on a whole new aspect if I am doing it for my King.
As mothers and wives and homemakers, we deal with the essentials of life...food, shelter, clothing, and love. We are home during the day so we are free to volunteer in ways those working full-time cannot. We are doing the most important things. But society often gets it backwards. The important things, we are told, are things that bring in a big paycheck or provide prestige. While there are important jobs and careers out there, I am unwilling to say that they are more important than what I do.
And I do more than just clean and wipe noses. I have many gifts and talents that I make use of during my days and weeks. Women who fall into the "just a mother" trap don't seem to realize that they can exercise their gifts and talents as a compliment to being a mother. Just look at the woman described in Proverbs 31, it makes me tired just to read about all she accomplished. But I think one reason some women find it difficult to suddenly being at home is that no one has ever trained or taught them to be at home. These women go from full-time jobs, where much of their time is prescribed for them, many with a boss to whom they must answer, and a set job description... to being in a place where none of this exists. As a homemaker, I am responsible for organizing my days, deciding what must be done, what my budget is, and determining if I am doing a good job. If I want contact with other people, I must arrange it; there is no ready-made group of people to socialize with. I must be OK with being alone at least some of the time. (As well as never really being alone, given the many small people....) It is a totally different lifestyle and we act as if women automatically know how to make it work.
I truly believe the only way to learn to be content and fulfilled at home is to have mentors who can model what it looks like. I have been blessed with both a mother and mother-in-law who are/were home full-time. But for women who feel they are forging new ground, where are the mentors? They are difficult to find these days. My experience has been that the majority of women go back to work after the children go to college. Very few women choose to stay home, and frankly, society views women who stay home when there are no children involved as complete pariahs. As a result, there is a dearth of models for those who choose to stay home.
In the end, the women on the radio have only lost themselves (and really, I'm still not sure what that exactly means) because they have bought into society's insistance that we must have a title or defined role to know who we are. If this is the case, the career of "mother" just doesn't cut it because it is so little valued by society. The job of "mother" is seen as one-dimensional, simplistic (because really, how difficult is diaper changing), and mentally stultifying. Instead I see the career of "mother" as one of great influence with the opportunity to impact mulitple generations for years to come. It can be as challenging and creative and enriching as I choose to make it. From a human perspective, the role of “mother” may be viewed as economically, politically, and socially negligible, but in God’s economy, perhaps it has a value that exceeds all of those roles that society values and compensates so highly and publically.
But really, the point is that your “self” is not something to be lost or found in ANY role, whether the role is CEO, radio host, author, mother, or any combination of the characters that exist in society’s cast list. The roles we choose or accept certainly can affect the self, either by strengthening and enriching or by diminishing and distorting our souls. But the self is (I think) to be understood as that which God sees when he looks at us. Surely He sees not “mother” or “consultant” or “teacher.” He sees the unique person whom He created; He sees our hearts and actions and choices and desires, and He sees them without the cloudy lenses of socially defined roles that we get trapped behind.